Life on the High Seas
By Lynette Russell
SUNY Press, $80.00, 221 pages
When people think of whaling they imagine the world of Moby Dick, Ahab roaming the high seas in search of the fabled white whale. Little do they realize that whaling ships housed a tight-knit group of people from all walks of life, ethnic groups and even both genders. The world of the whaler was not a monolithic enterprise, and racist attitudes of the time prevailed. In Roving Mariners, Lynette Russell looks at the role that the Aboriginal people of Australia and Tasmania played in the southern oceans at the height of the whale and sealing fisheries. Russell takes us into a world colonized by white Europeans, where the Aborigines who weren’t wiped out by disease found opportunity, freedom and a certain status by joining the whaling fleet. It was a chance for them to rise in a microcosm of the world – a mixture of races all working together.
This is an interesting book. It brings to light a part of the world that has largely been ignored or overlooked. Russell does an excellent job showing us that not all Aborigines were exploited. It is a bit distracting, though, when she spends large parts of the book defending her methodology; the book is sound enough already, and there’s no need to defend it at length.
Reviewed by Kevin Winter